There is no any gainsaying to the fact that trade unionism is presently pursued more as a career than a legitimate tool of service to the toiling masses. No union leader has to suffer any setback for pursuing any trade union activities, the representatives are rather better placed so far as their promotions and transfers are concerned. Besides a large number of employee leaders officially relieved from duty, there is yet a big number of them enjoying relief from work unofficially without affecting their promotions and postings at their choice points. The position holds good equally for both Award staff and officers union. State Bank of India Staff Association operating in State Bank of India had a decision earlier to the effect that any employee office bearers who opts for promotion or even temporarily officiates in higher cadre is automatically debarred from his position as a representative in the union. Such a practice is now only a matter of past as it uniformly obtains no where presently. Ajit Sen, the first General Secretary of the union predecessor to State Bank of India Staff Association, had to resign as an employee of the Bank when asked by the then management that no employee can be allowed to serve both the Bank and the union simultaneously. Ajit Sen, bold and strong in his convictions as he was, opted to serve the union losing his job in the Bank.
When local wing of officers union was formed for Kanpur (now Lucknow) Circle of the State Bank of India, the then President and the General Secretary elect called on me seeking my advice and guidance on how could their union grow stronger and work more effectively. As both of them were appointed in the Bank as Probationary Officers, they obviously had their career in the back of their mind. My advice to them was not to mix up their career with service to the people if they seriously and sincerely wanted their union to serve their officer members better and in a meaningful direction. Basic character of officers by virtue of their managerial jobs and responsibilities, I told them, is that of the management itself and for that reason it may not be that easy nor feasible for them to pursue their trade union activities in an effective measure as there are always chances of a clash between management and management in which event the possibilities of a due result on issues are remote. Pedestal of a trade union is built of sacrifices and not the privileges. What impression they might have drawn out of their talks with me I don’t know but I hardly remember any case where an officer might have ever suffered any set back for the reasons of his trade union activities. The two top level office bearers of officers union at the circle level who called on me were the ones who since retired from the Bank having risen to the top level executive grade of assignment.
Now that there are unions for every thing, the over all scenario stands completely changed. Gangsters or anti social elements, robbers or terrorists, rapists or gangs dealing in sex rackets, black marketers or adulterators, mafias or scoundrels, all have their unions in some brand name or the other to back up their activities. Once in Mumbai it was late in the evening that I was returning from Central Office of State Bank at Madam Cama Road to my hotel at Gateway of India after attending a hectic session of talks with the Bank’s management. I was badly tired but opted to walk the distance for the reason that whenever I am having some tension or fatigue or both a brief walking gives me some relief. When I was nearing my hotel I was intercepted by two men who, as I could guess, were the sex workers following me to take a chance if I could be their possible customer. I was taken aback. Coming nearer they had guts to whisperingly come out with the mention of their different brands of girls –local, English, Chinese and so on. I got nervous feeling perplexed as how to get rid of the situation. Thinking that mention of my otherwise a reputed starred hotel could possibly dissuade them from chasingly loitering around me I told them the name of my hotel. They laughed at me telling ‘Aap kya baat karta hai jee. Iss hotel mein bhi hamara union ka log hai. Hamara union bahut taqat wala hai. Sab kaam aaraam se hota hai. Aap bolega to maal seedha aap ka room mein pahuch jaayega’ (What do you talk. Men of my union are there in this hotel too. Our union is very powerful. Every work is done smoothly. If you say so you can get the delivery straight in your room). By this time I was on the gate of my hotel where I had to virtually force my entry inside getting out of the clutches of the so called men of their union. To my surprise no security staff of the hotel was there to take any notice of this episode. Feeling badly upset I had no sleep the whole night.
Such stories on different fronts are unending. Suffer as it does from several depraved maladies, the current era in trade unionism warrants a rejuvenated repair in its look, character and shape overcoming malfunctioning and adulterations. It is in fact a juncture where the concept of a genuine organised labour is required to be redefined afresh in a manner that it is able to be distinctly identifiable without getting ostensibly lost into other near similar activities. Just working together collectively as a group is not the union, what counts more in real terms is the purpose it serves and what matters most is the message of service to the people it carries with it. Trade union as a mission with original principles is the call of the day as it just can’t be allowed to go capriciously wayward and there lies the challenge for the leadership in different trade union organisations all over the world. (Concluded)